Monday, May 23, 2016

LA's First Frenchman: Louis Bauchet

Quick history lesson:

After French emperor Napoleon had his dérriere handed to him at Waterloo in 1815, a lot of French soldiers found themselves out of work.

Meanwhile, Mexico was in the midst of a revolution.

Contact between Mexico and France wasn't terribly new; in 1808, France invaded Mexico. That same year, Spanish kings Carlos IV and Ferdinand VII both abdicated (due to the Napoleonic Wars); Napoleon gave his brother Joseph the Spanish crown.

This did not go over well with everyone in Spanish America.

Mexico City's city council declared sovereignty in the absence of the true king. Things got messy. Long story short, Mexico sought independence from Spain.

Slight problem: Mexico needed more soldiers to successfully take on Spain.

When Napoleon was defeated and exiled, a solution presented itself: Mexico hired unemployed French soldiers.

One former Napoleonic Guard who fought in the revolution was Louis Auguste Bauchet (sometimes spelled "Bouchette"), born July 17, 1785 in Marne, France. Mexico - rich in land but poor in cash from the war - paid its French mercenaries in land grants.

In 1827, Bauchet made his way north to a little town of just under 700 - El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de la Reina de los Angeles. Bauchet established a vineyard in 1831 (making him one of two contenders for California's first true vintner - the other is Jean Louis Vignes), and also made barrels.

Bauchet lived another 20 years, passing on October 24, 1847, in Los Angeles at the age of 62. records disagree on when and where he was married (it could have been Spain, Mexico, or Los Angeles; the year could have been 1831, 1832, or 1836), but his living relatives seem to agree that his wife's name was Maria Basilia Alanis (or Alaniz). The likeliest scenario seems to be Los Angeles in 1831 or 1832 - he had a vineyard to run; why leave town for a wedding? The 1850 census indicates Maria was born in California, suggesting she was a local. As for the year, Louis and Maria's son Luis Guadalupe Bauchet was born December 13, 1832. Two siblings followed - sister Maria de Jesus Bauchet (1835-1864), and brother Luis Rafael "Ralph" Santos Bauchet (1836-1920), who became a farmer.

The 1890 city directory lists Louis G. Bauchet, painter, living at 22 Date Street, and the 1891 census gives the address of 730 Date Street. (Both locations are proving hard to pin down, since Date Street seems to have vanished. I found an old sketch of Lovers' Lane - Date Street's original name - but can't find a modern street matching its approximate location and shape.) I can find no record of his death; after 1891, no further records exist (nor have I been able to find any Bauchet gravesites...yet).

The Bauchet family's name and long-forgotten vineyard live on via Bauchet Street, which is in fact three odd stretches of road (one of them is not connected to the other two) in a grim part of downtown that most Angelenos rarely think of and never visit.

Specifically, Bauchet Street is home to the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, the LA Central Men's Jail, the Central Arraignment Court, the LA County Public Defender's office, LA County Pretrial Services, the LA County Sheriff's Department, and some bail bonds offices.

Very little is known about Bauchet, but we do know he was a career soldier and a businessman. I wonder what he'd think of his former vineyard housing jail facilities.

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